"I think he's excited by the challenge," Georgia head coach Mark Richt says. "I think we all are. If we walked out there and didn't feel like we had the talent base to compete, we'd be concerned. I think we're excited because there are a lot of guys who are really anxious to prove they can do it, and I think there's enough talent here to be successful. There is an awful lot of work to do obviously, but the guys are hungry and willing."
The Bulldogs finished the 2012 season sixth in the SEC in scoring defense (19.6 ppg) and sixth in total defense (357.8 yards per game). Grantham goes into his fourth season in charge of the Georgia defense hoping to better those placements despite losing so much talent. After 11 seasons in the NFL before coming to Georgia, Richt believes his defensive boss is fully caught up on the college game.
"Year One there is not much to draw from, and there is not much knowledge of the system to lean on. Everybody is just trying to learn what to do. That has been some of the biggest growth is going against these different styles of offense and getting a good feel of how you want to try to attack it," Richt said. "I think Todd got it (quickly) as far as college football. I think he really embraced that we are more than coaches; we are mentors, we are father figures, we are guys these guys kind of count on for a lot of things. He really embraced that from the very beginning."
Most of the attention on this year's defense will be focused at linebacker, where first-round NFL selections Jones and Ogletree played last season. It is expected they will be replaced on the outside of Georgia's 3-4 system by sophomores Jordan Jenkins and James Deloach, both of whom had good springs.
"Jordan is a guy who came in with a lot of high expectations," Richt said. Last year "he was under the wing of Jarvis and wanted to be". He kind of embraced that role of having Jarvis help him learn how to play the position. Now it's his chance to play and lead, and I think he's taking it real seriously."
While Jenkins was expected to be a breakout star this season, DeLoach has come from further outside the spotlight.
"We were thinking when we signed him he might be an inside backer, but he's very good in space," Richt said. "I think in our first and second down stuff he's better at Sam linebacker. We have a lot of high hopes for him."
While the new outside linebackers find their footing, the secondary might become Georgia's marquee defensive position with junior Damian Swann at cornerback and the emergence of freshman free safety Tray Matthews.
"The guy that everybody noticed first was Tray Matthews." Richt said.
Josh Harvey-Clemons is expected to start at strong safety but could spend as much time closer to the line of scrimmage at nickel back. But Harvey-Clemons has been suspended for the first game of the season for a violation of team rules.
"They are very talented guys," Richt said of his defensive backs. "I think the secondary is not a done deal as far as who's going to start but they made a very good impression obviously."
The biggest questions surround the defensive line, and not just because Chris Wilson will be in his first year coaching the unit after Rodney Garner's departure to Auburn. Junior Mike Thorton has the most to prove at nose tackle.
"I think the d-line is really doing a nice job," Richt said. "I think Coach Wilson is doing a nice job of teaching fundamentals, and some guys who have been waiting in the wings are getting a chance to prove they belong."
Richt is hoping that's a theme that carries over into the fall as a host of newcomers look to prove they, too, belong on NFL teams' radars.
"There is an awful lot of competition right now for jobs, especially on defense," Richt said. "I think that's healthy for us. I think we have the right ingredients. We are going to have to wait and see, start playing somebody besides ourselves, but I think we have enough of a talent base to get it done. We just have to get everybody going in the right direction and playing hard and hopefully staying healthy."